The Net That Saves

The president and CEO of The Rescue Mission in Fort Wayne dispels the myths about homelessness and explains the saving grace of a safety net.
Sep 7, 2021
Jennifer Blomquist
The Net That Saves

“I think the average person believes that homelessness happens when someone has an addiction problem or is struggling with mental illness or experiences a traumatic loss,” says Reverend Donovan Coley, Sr., president and CEO of The Rescue Mission in Fort Wayne. “Actually, we’re finding that the true cause of homelessness is when a person no longer has a key support structure in their life, or a safety net.”

Rev. Coley says a person’s safety net is based on authentic relationships where there is mutual accountability. The person feels a sense of identity, love and deep appreciation. 

“That allows a person to feel like they’re a part of a community,” he says. “When that safety net is missing, those individuals are more susceptible to homelessness. It is then exacerbated by mental illness. Eighty to 90 percent of the people we serve are dealing with some kind of mental illness. People often think that homelessness occurs because someone has made bad choices. Most of us can make bad choices in our lives, but because we have a safety net, we have safe, secure relationships to help us and we aren’t succumbing to the bad choices.”

For those needing a safety net, going to The Rescue Mission is the first step toward building a support network and ending the cycle of homelessness.

Founded in 1903, The Rescue Mission of Fort Wayne is a faith-based, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization providing restorative services to men, women and children experiencing a homeless crisis in Allen County and eleven surrounding counties.

The Rescue Mission has 274 beds in the men’s ministry and its women’s and children’s ministry, Charis House, has 78 beds.

“The answer to solving the homelessness problem is not to simply provide housing for people,” says Rev. Coley. “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a model called ‘Housing First’ to address homelessness where individuals are quickly connected with permanent housing without preconditions. There are times when that model should be used, but when it comes to the chronically homeless or the chronically mentally ill, we believe in our program called, ‘Housing Next.’”

Rev. Coley explains the “Housing Next” program at The Rescue Mission provides services to individuals prior to pursuing housing.

“If those individuals are simply given housing without addressing the deep-rooted issues in their lives, then it is just a matter of time before you’ll see them back at a place like The Rescue Mission.”

The moment an individual walks through the doors at The Rescue Mission, he or she is assigned a life coach and an intake process begins. 

“We then initiate what we call ‘House Support’ if it’s needed,” says Rev. Coley. “House Support is when we don’t see you functioning by yourself in a healthy way right now, so we will assign another person who is on the same journey with you to be in this together. So, we’re initiating these relationships with the person so they will start thinking, ‘I belong here. I am somebody and I’m going to be working through this.’”

Rev. Coley says there is a common misconception that The Rescue Mission just provides a place for homeless people to sleep.

“People think you have to leave The Rescue Mission each morning, but that is not the case,” he says. “We have created a community here where we do have those life coaches and peer mentors and we are able to include the people who come here into this community and start the process of recovery.”

For those who are willing, The Rescue Mission offers a detailed, five-phase rehabilitation program to get individuals back on their feet and able to responsibly function. Reverend Coley says it can take up to 18 months for someone to complete the program.

Through dozens of partnerships The Rescue Mission has established throughout the region, the individual not only focuses on healing his or her wounds, but is also connected to people who can provide job training and finance management skills.

“We give them life skills and we give them hope,” says Rev. Coley. “And even after they are done, our doors are always open to them if they need us. We become their safety net for life.” 

The Rescue Mission

Address: 404 E. Washington Blvd. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802

Phone: (260) 426-7357


Years in Business: Founded in 1903

Number of Employees: 90

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